Why Stem Cells are Important and How to Bank Yours

Wondering why Stem Cells are Important and How to Bank Yours? This post will tell you about both subjects.
Photo by CC user Vojtěch Dostál on Wikimedia Commons

You have probably heard about stem cells research and the potential benefits that it can bring to people suffering from a range of degenerative diseases. The idea definitely conjures up images of scientists and doctors like Dr. Kwang Yul Cha working away in laboratories – but did you know that there are some very easy ways that you can access and store your very own stem cells? Although stem cell research is still relatively new, there may come a day sooner than you think where having your own supply of stem cells could be a life-saver for you or your children.

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are special cells in the body that can produce different kinds of specialized cells or that can reproduce themselves to create more of the same kind of cell. One of the most important kinds of stem cell is the embryonic stem cell that is the start of human life. Embryonic stem cells are found in 4-5 day old embryos, and are the basis for every other cell in the human body. Scientists have learned how to activate genes in adults to stimulate the production of stem cells that, like embryonic stem cells, have the potential to become any cell in the body. This has been an important development because it means that research on these powerful cells can be done without the need for human embryos.

Another very vital kind of stem cell is the tissue stem cell. These kinds of stem cells are not able to make all the cells in the body, but they are able to make the cell or cells in the system or organ in which they are found.

Because of this powerful ability, stem cells have the potential to be regrown or engineered into different kinds of things, including “replacement parts” for our own bodies. Hearts have been grown in laboratories, and ears have been grown on the backs of mice. Artificial skin, intestinal tissue, trachea and other organs and parts have been engineered. Additionally, stem cell therapies are being investigated that may help to reverse damage caused by degenerative diseases, or even age.

Can We Store Our Own Stem Cells?

The answer is yes, we can! There are a few ways that we can “harvest” our own stem cells. One of the easiest ways is to hold back a tooth or two from the Tooth Fairy – molars, or especially wisdom teeth, are a great source of stem cells. There are currently a few facilities in the United States that cryopreserve and store teeth for exactly this purpose.

Another very important source of stem cells is admittedly more difficult to obtain – umbilical cord blood. This blood and tissue can be collected during childbirth, and contains the type of stem cell that can become any type of cell. Already, there are private cord blood storage facilities, and also public cord blood banks that accept donations.

So, whether you want to save your stem cells to treat against future health challenges or want to donate it to help another in need, know that there are options to preserve these live-saving cells!